update from the reader who needed to fire someone who was trying hard

Remember the reader who needed to fire a low performer who was trying hard? Here’s her update.

I told the employee a few weeks ago that we needed to let her go because the position required skills and experience she doesn’t possess. I asked her for a few weeks transition period. I offered that if she completed certain deliverables in the transition, she would get a bonus.

She agreed to a transition but was very cranky. I realize now this was because I made a mistake: initially I did not provide much explanation. I was guarded because I feared if I told her the truth, it would create liability for the company.

In a later conversation, I was more open and honest. I reminded her of several incidents where she demonstrated a failure to perform her job. I also reminded her of the many times I had warned her (verbally and in her performance reviews).

Within a couple days, her whole attitude changed. She told me she could see how hard I had worked to support her over the last several months, and expressed gratitude that I tried to help her. She admitted that she struggled in the position and even said she was a little relieved (she was constantly in fear of being fired). She saw how generous the offer was, and thanked me.

It’s been rough, but she completed the assignment, and we’ve hired a replacement who is starting on Monday.

Good for you for tackling this, even though it was tough on both sides, and for helping your employee with the transition.

It’s also a good reminder that being transparent about the reason with an employee who you’re firing is usually in everyone’s best interests. When you don’t share your reasons, that’s when people tend to assume something unfair is happening — and it’s also when people tend to be more likely to sue (because if they don’t hear a reason that makes sense, they’ll often go looking for one, and sometimes land upon the idea that it’s because of their race/religion/disability/age/other protected class).

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Darcie*

    “When you don’t share your reasons, that’s when people tend to assume something unfair is happening”.

    YES. That’s such a great observation. I’ve observed this even among my friends, if there is a lack of transparency around being let go, they start to think something fishy is going on.

  2. Brittany*

    I wish my some of my old managers had been that transparent (not from positions I was fired from, but ones where reasoning was not explained very well and it led to searching for opportunities elsewhere). Sounds like this worked out well for both people – congrats!

  3. Josh S*

    Sorry you had to do the hard thing, but I’m glad you tackled the tough (toughest?) part of management with grace and aplomb by explaining yourself and giving your employee a good transition out.

    Here’s a follow-up question — now that you have a vacancy in your team, do you know what you’re looking for/how to screen for the new person?

    1. Receptionist*

      He said at the end that they already hired a replacement who starts work Monday. But you’re right, I’m also curious as to whether they screened this new-hire more thoroughly to avoid the same situation happening again.

        1. Original Poster*

          Yes, that is correct. I inherited this person 2 years after she was hired.

          I did a really thorough screening for the replacement. We’re only a few days in with the replacement but she’s doing great so far.

  4. LisaD*

    Kudos on the graceful approach and the (belated) honesty. I think you were as kind as you could be.

  5. likesdesifem*

    If she didn’t have the skills, then there is no issue.

    The key is to document, and provide a thorough explanation when you are telling her you’re letting her go.

  6. Anon*

    Yes, I agree. I think you did a great job here. I wish more employers took the time to really work something out and even help the person.

    I would like to point out that a company I worked for was involved in *illegal* firing practices (pregnancy etc) and it came out that they would use trivial excuses- AND fire for cause.
    So it’s hard to trust employers when going through something like that

  7. Anonymous*

    I was in a similar situation once and, though I wasn’t unpleasant about it, I certainly didn’t appreciate how well they handled letting me go. Years later and after witnessing many firings and layoffs, I now know how generous they were when they didn’t need to be and I’ll remember that if I would ever find myself letting someone go.

  8. Joey*

    Why a bonus? It seems like you were already generous in giving her notice that you were firing her. Was there some business reason for it or were you just feeling particularly sorry for her? I say that because I would rather give a bonus to people who are performing instead of someone I’m firing.

    1. HR Pufnstuf*

      They gave the bonus because that is what they chose to do. If you want to give a bonus to your top performers than feel free to do so. I doubt anyone will argue with you.

      1. Joey*

        Whoa there. I’m just questioning whether the bonus was a good business decision. I just think its a bit ridiculous that you would feel it necessary to pay an underperforming employee a bonus to remain professional when they can’t even perform the job you’re already paying them to do. I’d much rather give it to my other employees for picking up the slack when she’s gone.

        To each his own, though.

    2. Anonymous*

      The bonus was most likely to ensure that the employee didn’t slack off or sabotage anything during her remaining time. If you tell someone they are being fired but then keep them around for a few weeks, there is not much incentive for them to keep working hard.

      1. HR Pufnstuf*

        ^ Exactly
        It made good business sense and gave her a bit more of a financial buffer

        That’s why they did it.

        1. Original Poster*

          Yes, that is why I offered a bonus. I needed an effective transition, and I needed her to remain professional so a bonus was the incentive. Its hard to keep people motivated after they know they’ll be out of work soon.

    3. Anonymous*

      But what about other high performing members of the team who are not getting a bonus for doing extra work, much less for doing the basic work that is expected of them? How would they feel?

      I was in a situation where we had a poor performer in a senior role on our overall team and I know that it really hurt morale that this person was paid more for poor/non-performance vs. other lower grade/lower paid people who were working really hard, and delivering at their own jobs and also spending a ton of time either helping or cleaning up after the poor performer. To then see that individual get a bonus would have been rubbing salt in the wound.

      1. Kaz*

        It sounds like the other employees would have been relieved that they wouldn’t have to pick up after the poor performer anymore, so the improvement in their work life is a bonus they would appreciate more than some small sum of money.

        1. Lynne*

          That, plus if I were one of this person’s coworkers, I’d rather see her get some kind of severance than not. Both out of sympathy for her losing her job, and also because I’d rather work for an employer that has enough compassion to do this when firing someone, even if they don’t have to.

          I really can’t imagine resenting this when…she just got fired! I don’t think this situation is comparable to a poor performer getting a bonus and continuing to work there (now that I can see causing morale issues). But this? I’d think giving her severance would have a positive effect on morale, if anything (assuming people know about it). Especially if she’s generally liked.

      2. Natalie*

        Why would other employees even know she was getting a bonus? I hope the manager wouldn’t say anything, and I imagine the employee was probably embarrassed enough about being fired to talk about it much.

  9. Cassie*

    Being transparent and specific is so important when giving feedback – I hate that most people I know shy away from it and are very vague instead. I’ve been having this conversation a lot with my friend at work in HR.

  10. AG*

    This sounds like a really tough situation to be in, and it sounds like the OP did a great job handling it.

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